Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
NFL executives making decisions about first-round draft choices should heed this warning particularly when there isn't a strong group of quarterbacks available like this year.
The search for the ever elusive franchise quarterback drives NFL teams to select passers higher than they should. Sustaining success in the NFL is hard enough, but infinitely more difficult without good quarterback play.
The 2017 quarterback class doesn't have any players on par with those in the 2015 and 2016 drafts when passers were taken with the first- and second-overall picks. Despite this, it's conceivable that four quarterbacks will be selected in the first round for the first time since 2012.
North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahones, California's Davis Webb and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer are considered as potential first-round picks by a majority of draft prognosticators. Trubisky is rumored to be a candidate to be taken first overall by the Browns even though he only started one season in college and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is a safer bet. Other first-round spots where quarterbacks could be a possibility are sixth (Jets), 10th (Bills) 12th (Browns-if Trubisky isn't first), 13th (Cardinals), 25th (Texans), 27th (Chiefs) and 32nd (Saints). Watson is generally considered as the next best prospect after Trubisky.
The first round of the 2004 NFL Draft is modern day gold standard for finding long term solutions at quarterback. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Losman were selected first, fourth, 11th and 22nd. The first three have spent their entire NFL careers with the same team. Manning, a four-time Pro Bowler, has won two Super Bowls with the Giants in six playoff appearances. He was named MVP of both Super Bowl victories. Rivers, who has earned six Pro Bowl berths, has gotten the Chargers to the playoffs five times in 13 seasons. The Steelers have won two Super Bowls in three appearances with Roethlisberger under center. The five-time Pro Bowler has been to playoffs nine times as a Steeler. Losman had an eight-year NFL career where he started 33 games with the Bills, who drafted him. His biggest professional football achievement was leading the Las Vegas Locomotives to a championship in the now defunct United Football League's inaugural season in 2009.
The 2004 quarterback draft class is an anomaly as the chart below listing the 26 quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts demonstrates.
Quarterbacks taken in the first round
1: JaMarcus Russell, Raiders
22: Brady Quinn, Browns
3: Matt Ryan, Falcons
18: Joe Flacco, Ravens
1: Matthew Stafford, Lions
5: Mark Sanchez, Jets
17: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers
1: Sam Bradford, Rams
25: Tim Tebow, Broncos
1: Cam Newton, Panthers
8: Jake Locker, Titans
10: Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars
12: Christian Ponder, Vikings
1: Andrew Luck, Colts
2: Robert Griffin III, Redskins
8: Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
22: Brandon Weeden, Browns
16: EJ Manuel, Bills
3: Blake Bortles, Jaguars
22: Johnny Manziel, Browns
32: Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings
1: Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
2: Marcus Mariota, Titans
1: Jared Goff, Rams
2: Carson Wentz, Eagles
26: Paxton Lynch, Broncos
For every successful first-round quarterback pick in recent years, there are almost twice as many failures. A conclusion can be drawn with 19 of the first-round picks. Only seven, or 36.8 percent, arguably could be considered a success.
Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill get categorized as successes under a broad definition of quarterbacks that could consistently put a team in position to make the playoffs more often than not under favorable circumstances or surrounded by the right pieces rather than being the catalyst of a playoff berth.
Joe Flacco is the only first-round quarterback drafted in the last 10 years to win a Super Bowl. He had a stellar postseason run during the 2012 season in which he threw 11 touchdowns without an interception and had a 117.2 passer rating en route to being named Super Bowl XLVII MVP. This led to Flacco briefly becoming the NFL's highest-paid player with the six-year, $120.6 million contract containing $51 million in guarantees he signed in 2013.
Matt Ryan and Cam Newton have earned NFL MVP honors in each of the last two seasons while leading their respective teams to the Super Bowl.
Andrew Luck, arguably the biggest can't-miss quarterback prospect since John Elway in 1983, found instant success. The Colts went from a league-worst 2-14 record in 2011 before Luck's arrival to the playoffs in 2012 with 11 wins. Luck re-set the NFL pay scale with the five-year extension he received from the Colts last offseason. The contract averages $24.594 million per year and contains $87 million in guarantees, of which $47 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
Matthew Stafford is in line to become the NFL's first $25 million per year player at some point this offseason after demonstrating he could thrive without six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who prematurely retired after the 2015 season.
A common denominator with Luck, Newton, Ryan and Stafford is they were top-three picks. Ryan is the only one that wasn't the first pick of his draft.
JaMarcus Russell is at the other end of the spectrum. He is widely considered as one of the biggest draft mistakes in NFL history. Russell only produced seven victories in 25 starts. He was benched midway during the 2009 season, his final season with the Raiders. He became the poster boy for a flawed rookie compensation system, which has been changed, that rewarded unproven high draft picks like Pro Bowlers. Russell made $39.365 million during his three NFL years, all in Oakland.
The jury is still out on the eight quarterbacks taken in the first round of the last three drafts except Manziel, who imploded, because it's too soon to reach a conclusion about these players. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota could eventually be thought of as best quarterbacks to go one-two of a draft in league history. Blake Bortles is at an early career crossroads after a disappointing 2016 season. There's no guarantee that the Jaguars will pick up his fifth year option for 2018 worth $19.053 million by the May 2 deadline. Teddy Bridgewater is trying to rebound from the career threatening knee injury he sustained last preseason.
Teams may be better served exercising more restraint with quarterbacks in the first round instead of reaching for a player because it's the game's most important position. There have been too many first-round quarterbacks that haven't panned out for the drafting team in recent years.
First-round quarterbacks that aren't overdrafted can pay dividends. Seventy-three of the 120 playoff teams (60.8 percent) over the last 10 years have gotten to the postseason with quarterbacks taken in the first round. Forty-four times the quarterback was a top-five pick. Additionally, six of the last 10 Super Bowl winners have had quarterbacks that were first-round picks.